DR. SEUSS, EAT MOR CHIKIN, AND HOW TO BE YOUR OWN PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER

Today was national Read Across America day, although various schools may celebrate the whole week (or next week, if they have some sort of testing or other conflict). My experience as a guest reader at a couple of different elementary schools, reading Dr. Seuss to the kids, was one of the things that prompted me to sign up for the “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” program, for which I’ve been a volunteer more than two years now.

I’ve told you this several times before, but when I first signed up for “Raise Your Hand,” I think one of those “Read Across America” appearances was sort of what I had envisioned. That wasn’t what it turned out to be at all, of course. In Regan Aymett’s first grade class at Learning Way Elementary, I am usually leading a small group of kids through some sort of simple game or worksheet, rotating small groups a few different times during the hour.

I love it. I miss it when I don’t get to be there – such as the past two weeks. Two weeks ago was Presidents’ Day, and last week the schools were out due to weather. So it had been three weeks since I’d been with the kids.

I arrived this morning at my usual time, but that was also the same time as one of those once-a-year Read Across America volunteers. So I sat there and waited as he read “Green Eggs and Ham” to the kids. I took a photo with my smartphone so that I could get it into the newspaper. To be completely honest, I was a little jealous, although my personal preference would have been “Fox In Socks.” Does that make me a bad person?

After he left, we went into our normal routine. I ended up working with three different groups of kids during what was left of our normal time. We were doing a couple of worksheets. On one worksheet, the kids had to figure out which letter was silent in various words and mark through it. The groups were progressively better as the hour went along – the first group really needed me to walk them through it, and even then they didn’t always get it. The last group could have done it by themselves while I was down the hall.

The last group included one kid who’s become one of my favorites this year – which is not to say he’s not frustrating some of the time. He immediately started by asking if the boy next to him could copy off his paper – “He’s a new student,” explained my friend. I explained that, no, each person had to do their own worksheet. (The newcomer did just fine without copying off anyone.) My friend did fine, too, but he insisted on announcing each of his answers as he wrote them on the worksheet. I kept trying to tell him not to do that, but it went in one ear and out the other. And, no, he wasn’t feeding answers to the new student, who was working at his own pace. I think he was just serving as his own play-by-play announcer.

I really enjoy my weekly hour working with the kids, but it leaves me with a lot of deep admiration for the talented, dedicated, highly-trained and often-unappreciated professionals who work with these kids day in and day out.

Oh, the other thing that happened this morning was that when I first checked in at the office, the secretary told me that Regan and her kids might still be in the gym. What was going on in the gym, you might ask? A visit from the Chik-fil-A cow. Sadly for me, the first graders were actually on their way back to the classroom by the time I caught up with them, and so I missed seeing the cow.

As I think about it tonight, I wonder – is it really a good idea to expose first graders to signs reading “EAT MOR CHIKIN”? I mean, learning to spell is hard enough as it is….

Let the band play on

For nearly half my life – for the vast majority of my adult life – I have been involved with the Nashville Symphony’s annual concert in Shelbyville. I covered the first two or three concerts, which were sponsored by Berol Corp., but then when First American Bank took over as sponsor, in maybe 1991 or 1992, the late Scott McDonald formed a steering committee and asked me to join it. I’ve been on that committee ever since, and the past few years I’ve been co-chair alongside with the committee’s long-time chair, Dawn Holley.

Last year, for the first time, the concert didn’t have a primary sponsor, and I was the one who stood up in front of everyone, welcomed them, and introduced Vinay Parameswaran, the symphony’s associate conductor, making his first appearance in Shelbyville. I’m told he was wonderful.

I say “I’m told” because, right after giving those words of welcome, I had to leave Calsonic Arena. It was Election Night, and I had to be at the county courthouse to collect election results as they came in. I’d spent months working with Dawn and others on the concert, and then I had to miss it. I sprinted up the center aisle, through the waiting crowd, and out the door of the arena before the first note of music was played.

You want to know the worst part of that?

For about six months, I thought I had missed the very last such concert. Without going into details, we thought that the pieces weren’t going to come together for a concert this year. No one had said so officially, but Dawn and I had taken it as a foregone conclusion, and I’d told a few friends not to expect there to be a symphony concert in Shelbyville in 2015.

But now, it looks like we’ve gotten a reprieve. We found out a few weeks ago that the concert has been scheduled, and we had a teleconference today to do some planning for it. The concert will be Tuesday, May 5.

There are still some details that need to be worked out, and we still really need a primary sponsor if there’s going to be any long-term future for the concert. But I can’t tell you how happy I am that I didn’t miss the very last one.

A day at the beach

SandwritingThis morning, for my weekly “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer hour in Regan Aymett‘s class at Learning Way Elementary, we wrote in the sand. Well, the kids wrote in the sand, anyway. Regan had little plastic tubs at my station, with blue sand in the bottom of each, and I read out spelling words that the kids had to draw with their finger in the sand.
The kids loved it — although, as one might expect, there was sand everywhere by the time I’d gone through the activity with three or four different groups. Whenever the kids weren’t writing — for example, some children had finished but others hadn’t — the ones not actually writing were shaking their little tubs or piling up the sand or just rubbing their hands through it.
I was struck by the difference in achievement level among the four groups. Some already knew how to spell “high,” others had to be walked through much-simpler words.
The sand thing was fun, though, for me and the kids.

kickoff!

The past few years, we’ve had our kickoff event for the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Bedford County in the fall. And it’s been poorly attended. We were going to have one this past fall, but a combination of factors forced us to postpone it until Jan. 31 – but that seems to have been a good thing. The number of RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page is already quite a bit higher than our normal attendance, and I’m sure there are people planning on coming who haven’t bothered to click the button.

But there’s still room for you! Whether or not you’re familiar with Relay, this is a great chance to stop by and have a good time. We will have a hot chocolate bar, and cookies, and kid-friendly games and activities. It will be more of a party than a presentation, although we will, of course, have information available about Relay.

Relay For Life is the American Cancer Society’s grass-roots fundraising program. The focus of that program in each community is an actual overnight event. Ours will be held June 5-6 at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center. Relay For Life is not a run or a race. The event is held around some sort of oval track (often at a high school stadium, although ours is on a horse show track). Various teams of walkers stay on the track for the duration of the event – in Bedford County’s case, that’s 12 hours, from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday. Each team must have at least one person walking at any given time during the event; that’s what makes it a relay, because team members take turns walking for their team.

The walking is only part of what goes on Relay night. It’s as much a festival as it is a walk. Each team typically operates some sort of concession – food, souvenirs, children’s games or activities or what have you. There are also ceremonies and observances, such as the Survivor Lap which opens the event by honoring cancer survivors, or the Luminaria Ceremony which takes place some time after dark. We encourage the general public, not just team members, to attend.

Teams raise money with their Relay-night concessions, but they also raise money in advance, with group fund-raisers and individual fund-raising by members.

Relay teams can be workplace-based, church-based, neighborhood-based or just a circle of friends. Sometimes, a Relay team is formed in tribute to a cancer patient or in memory of someone we’ve lost to cancer.

If you’re here in Bedford County, go to http://relayforlife.org/bedfordtn for more information. Otherwise, go to http://relayforlife.org and search for the Relay event in your area.

And please think about joining us, 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 31, at Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center.

blue like jazz

I am going to be teaching a new Sunday School class starting later this month at First United Methodist Church. This is being referred to as a young adult class, since I think some of the people who aren’t currently in classes fit into that demographic, but it’s actually open to anyone who wants to attend. We aren’t actively trying to poach anyone from existing classes.

Rev. Lanita Monroe announced from the pulpit a few weeks back that she was looking for people for several different Sunday School classes, including a young adult class. I’d been feeling burned out, for a variety of reasons, with Sunday School, and I’d been missing it more and more often lately. I now think that might have been a God thing. But we’ll see.

I’m re-reading Donald Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality,” which I’d used with a previous, now-defunct class and which I’ve chosen to start out this new  class. It’s one of my favorite books, and one I hope will lend itself to some good discussion. But that will depend on who we actually have in the class.

We’ll also need to find someone I can rely on to take over the class on occasion, since I’ll still get called on as a lay speaker from time to time.

“Blue Like Jazz” isn’t like most other Christian books you’ve read before. (It has a cuss word!) It’s not really a narrative, even though it was turned into a movie (more about that in a second). But there are some sort of storylines to it, involving some time Miller, who was already a college graduate, spent auditing classes at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, which is considered one of the most-secular, least religion-friendly campuses in the nation. But it’s not really a story of Don versus The Atheists; it’s more a story of Don versus Himself, as he struggles to find his own faith, somewhere between the church he was raised in and the secularism that surrounds him. It’s also the story of Don finding a community of friends who hold each other accountable.

I still remember how I came to read the book. Christianity Today excerpted a chapter from it, in which Don and his circle of Christian friends try to decide what to do about Reed College’s Ren Fayre, an annual festival famous for its debauchery. They ended up building a confession booth – but festival-goers who wandered into the booth were shocked when it was Don and his friends doing the confessing. You really have to read the full story.

This Sunday, I’m going to take the chance to go hear my father preach at Mt. Lebanon UMC before the new class starts.

Oh, about that movie: I haven’t seen it yet. I started watching it one night, while I had Netflix, but I got interrupted and never went back. This is ironic for two reasons. As I said, the book is one of my favorites. And the director of the movie was Steve Taylor. Remember Steve Taylor? The musician I was so thrilled to see performing live in November?

As I said, the movie puts a narrative to a book that doesn’t really have one. It also fictionalizes the story somewhat. In real life, Don Miller was a college graduate by the time he started hanging around Reed College. But the movie version of Don is a fresh-faced college student escaping from a fundamentalist upbringing.

Maybe if the class gels, and people enjoy the book, we can have a party and watch the movie together.

overwhelmed

Each year about this time, the Mountain T.O.P. ministry holds a celebration at its headquarters and base camp, Cumberland Pines, between Altamont and Coalmont in Grundy County.

The event serves several purposes. About three-quarters of those in attendance are twenty-somethings who’ve been part of the Mountain T.O.P. summer staff in the past few years. Many of the individual camp staffs become quite close, and this is a great chance for them to reconnect. I love hearing the little squeals every few minutes from the women as some new person enters the room, to big hugs and laughter.

InstagramCapture_1d781efc-6c93-4e1c-9092-f28ce24f0de3Old fogeys are allowed to attend as well: current and former board members, Adults In Ministry campers and other friends of the ministry. I’m a former board member, an AIM camper and (I hope) a friend of the ministry. It’s a reunion for us as well, and tonight I got to see good friends like Jan Schilling, Sonja Goold, Ray Jones, Bob Willems, Reed and Deeda Bradford, and more. (I even got to see Sandy Hayostek, who I actually know through a LEAMIS trip – I don’t believe I’ve ever been at a Mountain T.O.P. event with her before.)

Finally, the event serves as the introduction of Mountain T.O.P.’s theme for the year. Each year, the ministry chooses a theme scripture and accompanying slogan, which is made into a logo. The logo appears on T-shirts, banners and preparation materials, and it’s also used as a theme for various worship services and devotions at camp events.

10903823_10203343271808331_3047647520528749390_oThis year’s theme is “Overwhelmed.” (I stole this photo from Sonja’s Facebook feed; don’t think she’ll mind.) The theme scripture is Psalm 42, and the inspiration was a song by Big Daddy Weave. (I wasn’t familiar either.)

As Mountain T.O.P.’s executive director, Rev. Ed Simmons, pointed out, the Psalm itself sounds more like lament than praise. But if you look closely, you realize it’s also about allowing the love of God to overwhelm us when we feel overwhelmed by trouble.

Of course, this year the theme logo will also have to share some of the spotlight with another logo – one we haven’t gotten to see yet. Ed said preparations are still being made for a special logo to celebrate Mountain T.O.P.’s 40th anniversary this year.

Tonight, though, was all about the theme reveal.

Dinner was poppy seed chicken – a Mountain T.O.P. staple for pretty much all of the ministry’s 40-year history, well before I got involved in 1993.

The e-mail invitation had suggested that we wear vintage Mountain T.O.P. T-shirts, although not everyone noticed it. I wore my all-time favorite Mountain T.O.P. shirt. I bought it during my very first AIM camp in 1993, although I think the shirt was actually from a year or two before that.

All in all, a very nice evening, and well worth the drive to and from Altamont.

book update

I am still working, off and on, on the possible self-published book I mused about a few weeks back. For those of you who missed it, I’m toying with taking some pre-existing material like sermons, adding some newly-written material, and self-publishing a book of sort of essays and devotions. I want to at least try putting it together and seeing if it seems like something anyone else would be interested in reading.

And I would use the same avenues I used for my Bad Self-Published Novel, so there’d be little upfront expense.

I’ve picked out a few sermons that I want to turn into essays – and that’s more challenging than it sounds. I have taken down a long essay on faith that I used to have on this site so that I can adapt big chunks of it for inclusion. And I’ve come up with some ideas for original material that I want to work on as well.

A couple of things I’ve worked on are a little too rambliing, and I need to figure out what to do about them. But there are things I’m proud of that I think would work well in print.

I’m in no hurry, but I want to keep working on it so that it doesn’t fall by the wayside.

Come to AIM in 2015

I submitted, and they were kind enough to print, an item on Mountain T.O.P. for this week’s church newsletter. I’ll share it below as well. Mountain T.O.P. has some administrative ties to the United Methodist Church, but its programs are interdenominational, and are attended each year by individuals and groups from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds.
I will also share a couple of videos: My personal video from the AIM event I attended last summer, plus the camp slideshow from that same week. My video, by necessity, only shows things I was present for, which means there’s no footage of home repair. The slideshow is therefore more comprehensive.


Mountain T.O.P. has announced the dates for its Adults In Ministry program for next summer. At the week-long camps, each individual adult volunteer can choose between participating in the home repair ministry or participating in a ministry which serves children and youth.

  • June 7-13, Home repair or Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope is an arts program for elementary-age special needs children; volunteers can either lead a workshop or volunteer to help with workshops led by others. “Special needs” is broadly-defined and includes a wide variety of situations.
  • June 21-27, Home repair or Summer Plus. Summer Plus is a program of enrichment workshops for young teenagers. Workshops can include anything from sports to cooking to crafts. As with Kaleidoscope, you can either volunteer to lead a workshop yourself or to help with workshops led by others.
  • July 5-11, Home repair or Quest. Quest is an adventure camp in which teenagers get to do activities like rafting and rappelling. Adult volunteers work in a support role; they can participate in activities but can skip any activity with which they’re not comfortable.

In the home repair program, teams of about six volunteers spend the week making improvements to the home of a needy individual or family.
Prior experience is NOT required for any of the four programs, and there will be volunteers of both genders and at all skill and experience levels in each program.
2015 is the 40th anniversary of the Mountain T.O.P. ministry, and so the ministry has a goal of recruiting at least 40 volunteers for each of the camp weeks. All of the weeks are held at Camp Cumberland Pines near Altamont in Grundy County.
Getting away on a short-term mission trip can be a time of spiritual refreshment as well as service; the experience of living for a week in a supportive, fun Christian community is a true blessing.
For more information, contact me or go to http://mountain-top.org/adults-in-ministry-aim/


Mellow here, mellow there

I had a wonderful weekend in Sevier County with my father and Mrs. Rachel; my brother from North Carolina and his family; and my sister and two of her three children.

We stayed in Sevierville. We had a couple of big family meals together, one of them being at the Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant on the campus of the Apple Barn in Sevierville. I’d been there once before; it’s fantastic. Great, country-style cooking. They bring wonderful apple fritters and apple butter to the table before your meal, along with a little juice glass of a mixed juice they call an “apple julep.” It’s not alcoholic – although there is a winery at the Apple Barn itself, next door, and I bought a bottle of apple blush, a semi-sweet apple wine with a little grape wine to give it color. I’ll open it up one night this week, and will probably have a glass on New Year’s Eve.

For much of the weekend, we also spent time just going our own way in various groups.

On Saturday morning, my youngest niece Ila had the time of her life fighting dragons at MagiQuest in Pigeon Forge. Her mother Kelly was with her while Michael, Daniel and I were in another part of the building playing miniature golf. MagiQuest was right on the parkway in Pigeon Forge, and we noted that there was a Mellow Mushroom pizza restaurant right next door. I’d never been to one, but Michael and Kelly had, as had Jacey and Jacob.

Later in the day, we went to Gatlinburg, where I hooked up with Elecia, Jacey and Jacob for a while.

As the sun set, Mike and Kelly said they were going to the Mellow Mushroom for dinner. Jacob and I wanted to join them, while Elecia and Jacey wanted to go to The Island, a big shopping complex in Pigeon Forge, and eat at Margaritaville.

So Elecia and Jacey got off the trolley at The Island, while Jacob and I continued on to a stop at MagiQuest and walked next door.

Here’s the funny part. We had noticed earlier, when trying to figure out which trolley stop we needed, that there are two Mellow Mushrooms in Pigeon Forge, within a very short distance of each other. The one Jacob and I were at, along with Michael and Kelly and the kids, was right on the parkway. The other one was at The Island.

So we were greatly amused, in the middle of our (wonderful) meal, when Jacob got a text saying that Jacey and Elecia had decided  not to eat at Margaritaville because of a two-hour wait time to get a table. Instead, they were eating at … you guessed it … the other Mellow Mushroom.

Google Maps shows the two locations as being 7/10 of a mile from each other.

We all had a big laugh over it.

It was a really wonderful trip, and a great chance to spend time with the family.